Jeannie Yvonne Ghislaine Rousseau was born on 1 April 1919 in Saint-Brieuc. A brilliant linguist, she graduated in languages from Sciences Po in 1939. When the Nazis invaded France she joined her family in Dinard where she became an interpreter for the occupiers. However, as she interpreted she also gathered intelligence.
Jeannie’s intelligence gathering included secrets of commercial deals and details of the steel and rubber industries. She said later, “I was storing my nuts, but I had no way to pass them on.”
The Gestapo arrested Jeannie in January 1941, but they released her with the proviso that she did not visit the coast. Later that year, she moved to Paris where she gathered more intelligence from a Parisian company that supplied materials to the Nazis.
Jeannie’s formal career as a spy began in 1941 when she met Georges Lamarque on the Paris-Vichy night train. Lamarque remembered Jeannie, and her talent for languages, from the University of Paris. He invited her to work for him and she agreed immediately.
During 1943, Jeannie filed her most remarkable reports – details of the missile and rocket development at Peenemünde. These reports alerted R.V. Jones, the Assistant Director of British Intelligence (Science), to the V1 and V2 rocket threat and in so doing saved thousands of lives.
When R.V. Jones received Jeannie’s reports he enquired about their source and was told that they came from “one of the most remarkable young women of her generation.”
Thanks to R.V. Jones’ persuasive nature, the Allies bombed Peenemünde. Initially, he met with departmental resistance before convincing Churchill about the importance of the mission. Because the raid would take place in August, partly in daylight, it carried great risk. Also, it involved a great number of Allied bombers, diverting them from other targets. The mission was successful, although the Allies did lose a large number of planes and aircrew during the daylight leg of the raid.
Shortly before D-Day, with the Gestapo closing in, Jeannie planned to escape with two other agents. However, she was caught by the Gestapo. Bravely, during her capture, she alerted her colleague and he escaped.
R.V. Jones later said, “Amniarix’s (Jeannie’s code name) reports stand brilliantly in the history of intelligence, and three concentration camps – Ravensbrück, Königsberg (a punishment camp) and Torgau could not break her.” Thankfully, the Swedish Red Cross rescued Jeannie shortly before the end of the war.
After the war, Jeannie worked as a freelance interpreter for the United Nations and other agencies. She also married Henri de Clarens whom she met while recovering in Sweden from tuberculosis, contracted during her imprisonment. Henri had endured periods in the Buchenwald and Auschwitz concentration camps. The couple had two children.
Henri died in 1995 while Jeannie died on 23 August 2017 in Montaigu, aged 98.